Saints Offseason Brief: The Backfield

Over the next few columns, we’re going to take a look at various positions on the Saints roster, where the Saints stand on contracts and salary caps in that regard, and what they might do differently for 2018. Rather than play coy, I’m just going to jump in and cover the most important position and most important player, as well as his backfield mates. (Contract figures and salary-cap numbers are mostly courtesy of, with the occasional information from Ages are as of the first day of the 2018 season.) QUARTERBACK 2017 Players and Cap Information
Player Age 2017 Cap Hit 2018 Cap Hit Signed Through
Drew Brees 39 $19,000,000 $6,000,000 Free Agent
Chase Daniel 31 $900,000 $0 Free Agent
Taysom Hill 28 $465,000 $555,000 2019
  The success of the team this year has changed the outlook of this position, for sure. The roster had been in need of rebuilding the last couple of years, and if the team struggled to another season of 7-9 mediocrity, there’s a chance the Saints would’ve decided to go full-on with the rebuild and let Brees walk, using their high pick to draft or move up for a quarterback. But with the team not only making the playoffs but playing like possibly the best team in the NFL (at least by one measure), the Super Bowl window appears to be open for as long as Drew Brees plays at a high level. Brees has said he doesn’t want to play anywhere else, so the matter now is as simple as working out a contract. Over The Cap says the Saints have over $31 million in cap space projected for 2018, but that lists Brees’ cap hit at $6,000,000, when he’s got $18 million in dead money from his last contract. If the Saints extend Brees before his contract officially expires (March 14, the final day of the league year) that dead money can be spread out at $6 million a pop each year for the next three. Otherwise, it all hits at once. This creates significant incentive for the team to get a deal done. The Saints probably don’t want to blow all their cap space up front this offseason on Brees, so they may structure his contract similarly to the last one he signed, with a large signing bonus and multiple voidable years at the end which would allow the cap hit to be kicked down the road. There’s also a chance he takes a discount to remain with the team, a la Tom Brady, but the Saints should be able to make it work either way. It’s not clear whether or not the team will bring back Daniel as the backup, though his familiarity with the offense is nice insurance to have.  If the team decides to use a draft pick on a potential QB of the future, that may crowd Daniel out of a roster spot. The Saints claimed Taysom Hill from the Packers at the final 53-man roster cutdown, and though they’ve famously used him more as a special teams gunner and punt rusher than as a quarterback this year, they seem to believe in his talent as a potential developmental quarterback. If the team feels comfortable with Hill as the backup, Daniel may not be re-signed. Of course, this position really comes down to two factors: Drew Brees and the future. With Brees intent on coming back, the need to draft a QB is less pronounced, but the team could still take one if they find a talent they like who falls to their draft pick at #27. Baker Mayfield was once a popular link to the Saints, as I mentioned last week, but his stock has been rising and he’ll likely be a top-10 selection. There’s still a chance Louisville’s Lamar Jackson is available with the pick; I think he’s one of the best prospects in the draft, period, but as so often happens in the NFL, QBs who don’t look and play a certain way aren’t regarded as highly as QBs who do, regardless of differing levels of performance. (Anyone really want to tell me they’d rather have Josh Allen as their franchise quarterback than Lamar Jackson?) Someone who might be worth taking a chance on on day two (but is probably not good enough for a first-round pick) is Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph. RUNNING BACKS AND FULLBACKS 2017 Players and Cap Information
Player Age 2017 Cap Hit 2018 Cap Hit Signed Through
Mark Ingram 28 $5,345,000 $6,245,000 2018
Alvin Kamara 23 $708,193 $878,193 2020
Daniel Lasco 25 $349,411 $630,000 2018 (RFA)
Trey Edmunds 23 $465,000 $555,000 2020 (RFA)
Jonathan Williams 24 $247,353 $680,000 2018 (RFA)
Player Age 2017 Cap Hit 2018 Cap Hit Signed Through
John Kuhn 35 $506,471 $0 Free Agent
Zach Line 28 $470,294 $0 Free Agent
  Running back is probably the Saints’ most settled position. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara soak up virtually all the backfield snaps, save the occasional blowout. Kamara’s emergence this year as a better player than even Saints management could have expected made Adrian Peterson expendable, and with him being under a rookie contract through 2020, he provides one of the best bangs for the buck on the team. The team could save $4.6 million in cap room by cutting Ingram, but there’s no compelling reason to do so, as effective as he has been. Ingram will be a free agent after 2018, so the Saints may want to think about their long-term plans at the position. Ingram will be 29 after the 2018 season, and 30 is often a deadly age for even truly great running backs. The Saints may want to move on from him at that time, to a younger power back, but that’s something we can talk about in next year’s offseason column. The other three running backs are, respectively, a seventh-round pick, an undrafted free agent, and a fifth-round pick acquired on waivers. Lasco and Edmunds are primarily special teamers and played fine in that role. Williams was signed during the season after Lasco went on injured reserve, and if Lasco comes back to full health, he may not make the final 53. It’s possible the Saints use a draft pick on a running back, particularly if they find one they like who can play special teams or even replace Ingram after his contract expires next year. But as it stands now, the team is looking mighty fine at the position. John Kuhn was the starter and only fullback on the roster until he went on injured reserve, at which point the Saints signed Zach Line. Both of them are free agents now, and the Saints will likely carry only one fullback on the active roster again, and probably someone signed for the veteran minimum. Kuhn turns 36 three days after the start of the regular season, and he may retire, but if he wants to come back, the Saints will probably sign him. If they don’t sign Kuhn or Line, it’s difficult to project who they’ll target. The Saints value the fullback position enough to keep one on the active roster, but not enough to spend more than the minimum on a player. Next time: We’ll look at the team’s pass-catching groups: wide receivers and tight ends.